South America has long been a popular destination for expats seeking a new adventure, with its passionate culture, stunning landscapes, and affordable cost of living.
As you consider your options for a new lifestyle in Latin America, choosing the country that best matches your lifestyle expectations is critical.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the best countries and cities to live in South America for expats, considering factors like safety, quality of life, and ease of integration.
Whether searching for a dynamic city or a tranquil coastal escape, South America has something to offer everyone.
Colombia, for example, boasts the cosmopolitan and modern city of Medellin, known for its pleasant climate, growing digital nomad scene, and friendly locals.
Alternatively, Argentina’s Buenos Aires offers a European-inspired atmosphere in the heart of South America, with exceptional food, nightlife, and tango dancing.
Meanwhile, the beautiful city of Lima, the capital of Peru, showcases a rich history and a thriving gastronomic scene that’s sure to delight foodies.
As you consider each country’s unique qualities, consider your priorities and preferences in terms of lifestyle, employment opportunities, and community.
South America’s diverse expat destinations are waiting to welcome you with open arms, but where you choose to live in South America will depend on your personal and professional requirements.
Best countries for expats in South America
Ecuador may be your expat or retirement dream if you seek a slice of South American serenity infused with vibrant culture and stunning landscapes.
Nestled between the Andes mountains and the Pacific Ocean, this diverse country offers affordable living and a wealth of unforgettable experiences.
Roam Quito’s historic streets, enjoy Cuenca’s European charm, or soak up the sun on the beautiful beaches of Salinas.
Immerse yourself in the warmth of friendly locals, sample delectable local cuisine here, or shop at bustling indigenous markets.
The climate is eternally spring-like, and a high standard of healthcare is accessible and affordable.
As a retiree, you’ll benefit from discounts on public services, making an already affordable cost of living even more appealing.
Ecuador is more than just a country; it’s a lifestyle offering an inviting blend of tranquility, adventure, and cultural immersion for every expat or retiree.
Expats and retirees seeking a taste of the extraordinary will find Chile an irresistible blend of dramatic landscapes, cosmopolitan cities, and a relaxed lifestyle.
Chile is an adventurer’s paradise, from the Atacama Desert’s arid expanses to Patagonia’s breathtaking wilderness.
Live the city life in Santiago with its pulsating culture, exquisite cuisine, and vibrant arts scene.
Venture to Valparaiso for its bohemian spirit or to vineyard-laden valleys for a sip of world-renowned wines.
For tranquility, the Lakes District’s picturesque towns offer a slower pace amid natural splendor.
Chile’s robust infrastructure, high living standards, and excellent healthcare system ensure a comfortable, modern lifestyle.
With safety and stability that stand out in the region, Chile is an appealing destination for expats and retirees seeking an exhilarating yet serene South American lifestyle.
If you are considering moving to Chile, there are quite a few amazing locations to explore. Our guide to the best places to live in Chile can be a great starting point.
Uruguay, often South America’s best-kept secret, is a haven for expats and retirees seeking a relaxed lifestyle with a mix of urban convenience and coastal charm.
From the chic beach resorts of Punta del Este to the cultural richness and great city of Montevideo, Uruguay brims with delightful contrasts.
Sip yerba mate with friendly locals in one of the many plazas, stroll along the Rambla, or savor asado at a lively weekend market.
Uruguay stands out for its high-quality lifestyle with a higher average life expectancy, robust healthcare system, and social liberalization.
This democratic stronghold offers a safe, stable environment coupled with a warm, welcoming community.
Living in Uruguay means enjoying a blend of simplicity and sophistication, where life’s pleasures are savored, and the pace of life is unhurried.
Immerse yourself in Argentina, a nation that dances to its own rhythm, offering expats a vibrant blend of Latin American flair and European sophistication.
Marvel at Buenos Aires’ grand avenues, savor world-class Malbec in Mendoza’s vineyards or gaze at the awe-inspiring peaks of Patagonia.
With its sultry tango, delicious asados, and passionate football culture, Argentina has an unrivaled zest for life.
Dive into the nation’s rich literary tradition in its countless bookstores, or discover contemporary art in trendy Palermo.
Despite its economic ups and downs, Argentina maintains an affordable cost of living, complemented by a warm, embracing community and an enchanting, varied landscape.
With a rich tapestry of cultural experiences, living in Argentina is an irresistible opportunity for expats to embrace an energetic, unforgettable lifestyle. Check out our latest guide on the most popular locations in Argentina for expats.
Welcome to Colombia, where expats and locals alike find a captivating blend of vibrant culture, natural beauty, and an ever-evolving modern lifestyle.
From the pulse of Bogotá’s burgeoning art scene to the Caribbean charm of Cartagena, each city offers a different experience.
Enjoy Medellín’s eternal spring-like climate, perfect for exploring its innovative architecture and digital nomad scene.
Venture into the Coffee Cultural Landscape for its lush mountains and world-class beans.
Colombians’ warm hospitality, combined with an affordable cost of living and a growing international business scene, make it a compelling choice for expats.
The rhythm of salsa, the joy of colorful festivals, and the diversity of its culinary scene are unforgettable parts of the Colombian experience.
The nation’s remarkable progress in safety and stability only enhances its appeal for many foreigners.
Life in Colombia as an expat is an immersion in a rich tapestry of experiences, an expat destination on the rise.
Step into Peru and discover a mesmerizing mosaic of ancient traditions, vibrant culture, and natural wonders, making it a rewarding destination for expats.
From the culinary delights of Lima, the “Gastronomy Capital of the Americas,” to the cobbled charm of Cusco, Peru serves up rich experiences in generous measures.
Scale the heights of Machu Picchu, navigate the mysteries of the Amazon, or catch a wave on the Pacific Coast.
Peru’s fusion of indigenous, Asian, African, and European influences creates a diverse, inclusive society, reflected in its tantalizing cuisine, folkloric music, and lively festivals and cultural events.
With an affordable cost of living, friendly locals, and expanding business opportunities, Peru is increasingly attractive for expats.
Embrace the Peruvian phrase “Vive el Ahora” (Live the Now) and enjoy a lifestyle where every moment is steeped in history, infused with vibrancy, and framed by breathtaking landscapes.
Venture into the heart of South America and uncover Paraguay, a hidden gem that offers expats an intriguing blend of tradition and modernity.
Life here moves languidly, with warm hospitality and strong community ties at its core.
From the bustling streets of Asunción, where modern architecture meets colonial charm, to the serene countryside, a lifestyle suits all tastes.
Experience a rich tapestry of cultural influences, from vibrant indigenous traditions to European elements reflected in its cuisine and arts.
Paraguay boasts a low cost of living, making it one of the most affordable countries in the region.
It’s not uncommon to see tereré-drinking locals lounging in leafy plazas or colorful festivals brightening up the streets.
Paraguay provides a unique, authentic, and economical South American living experience, especially if you’re seeking a destination off the beaten path.
Find out more in our guide to living in Paraguay as an expat. To explore various destinations in the country, check out our guide on the best places to live in Paraguay.
Best South American cities for expats
Quito, Ecuador’s capital, offers expats an enriching experience high in the Andes.
The city brims with charm, from the well-preserved Spanish colonial center, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to the modern city known for its cafes, international restaurants, and energetic nightlife.
Quito’s blend of history, culture, and raw beauty, with the stunning backdrop of Pichincha Volcano, is awe-inspiring.
As a hub for exploring the Amazon Rainforest, Galapagos Islands, or local artisan markets, Quito never falls short of an adventure.
The city’s year-round spring-like weather, affordable cost of living, and warm local community make it an attractive destination for expats seeking a rich, balanced, and culturally immersive lifestyle.
Cradled between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean, Santiago offers expats a life of cultural richness and modernity.
Its modern skyline, replete with high-rises and thriving businesses, contrasts historic neighborhoods with colonial city architecture and lush parks.
Santiago presents a thriving arts scene, bustling markets, and world-class cuisine, encapsulating Chile’s culinary renaissance.
With an extensive public transportation system and high living standards, the city effortlessly merges modern amenities with a vibrant local culture.
Beyond the city center, vineyards, ski resorts, mountain ranges, and beach towns are just a short drive away.
As an expat in Santiago, you’ll find a perfect balance of Latin American charm and big city life’s sophistication. Discover more in our guide on living in Santiago as an expat.
Montevideo, the tranquil capital of Uruguay, seduces expats with its coastal allure, picturesque plazas, and vibrant city life.
The city boasts a lively arts scene, from street murals to classical theater, reflecting a profound appreciation for creativity.
The Rambla, a waterfront promenade, is a local favorite for stunning sunsets, while the historic Mercado del Puerto offers a carnivore’s paradise with sizzling asado grills.
Montevideo’s thriving tech scene and progressive social policies blend with a laid-back pace of life, creating an appealing contrast.
Outdoor and nature lovers can enjoy the city’s pristine beaches and lush parks.
Living in Montevideo means immersing in a rich culture of warmth and tradition of Latin America, with the comforts of a modern, liberal city, making it an irresistible abode for expats.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Dubbed the “Paris of South America,” Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital and a major city in South America, enchants expats with its fusion of European grandeur and Latin American energy.
Its eclectic neighborhoods make it one of the most attractive cities to explore, with a unique blend of ornate architecture, thriving arts, and pulsating tango rhythms.
From sipping Malbec in trendy Palermo’s boho-chic wine bars to indulging in world-class steaks in a traditional San Telmo parilla, Buenos Aires is a gastronomic delight.
One of Latin America’s most unique cities with diverse cultural offerings, including avant-garde theaters, antique markets, and fiery football matches stoked with passionate chants.
The city’s vivacious nightlife is legendary, with milongas and nightclubs illuminating the streets until dawn.
With a rich history, warm porteños (locals), and a cost of living lower than many Western cities, Buenos Aires presents expats with a dynamic, culturally rich, and compelling lifestyle.
Check out our guide on the best neighborhoods to live in Buenos Aires.
Santa Marta, Colombia
Santa Marta, Colombia’s oldest city, is a coastal city and an expat’s tropical dream nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Its historic downtown radiates charm with colonial architecture, vibrant markets, and al fresco dining, while trendy El Rodadero offers modern high-rises and bustling beaches.
Santa Marta is a gateway to stunning natural attractions, from the Tayrona National Park’s pristine beaches to the Lost City Trek, where you can interact with the indigenous communities.
Seafood is a local highlight at delicious restaurants, with fresh catches gracing daily menus.
Compared to larger Colombian cities, the city’s slower pace of urban life, friendly locals, and lower cost of living make it an inviting haven for expats.
Living in Santa Marta promises a vibrant mix of culture, history, and outdoor adventures in a tropical setting.
Known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ for its pleasant year-round climate, Medellín, Colombia, voted the most innovative city by the Urban Land Institute, is a paradise for digital nomads.
Modern infrastructure, fast and reliable internet, and abundant co-working spaces like Selina and Ruta N cater to a remote-working lifestyle.
From the verdant landscapes of the Aburrá Valley to its innovative Metrocable transport and metro system here, Medellín is one of the best South American cities for a blend of natural beauty and urban innovation.
Discover a widespread café culture perfect for laptop afternoons, complemented by an energetic nightlife scene.
The city’s lower cost of living, increasing safety, and friendly ‘Paisa’ culture create a welcoming urban environment.
Its location allows quick weekend getaways to quaint nearby towns and lush coffee plantations.
Medellín combines work and pleasure effortlessly, making it an enticing hub for digital nomads seeking a dynamic, affordable, and fulfilling lifestyle.
Enveloped in the grandeur of the Andes, Cusco, once the heart of the Inca Empire, offers expats an enchanting blend of ancient traditions and modern amenities.
Walk along cobblestone streets lined with Inca walls and colonial buildings, explore vibrant markets filled with artisan crafts, or sip coca tea in quaint local cafés.
Cusco’s bustling culinary scene, with its fusion of Andean and international flavors, is a gastronomic delight.
Despite its high-altitude location, the city’s lively festivals and the ever-present echoes of Quechua make it pulsate with life.
As a gateway to the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, it promises regular encounters with unparalleled natural beauty.
Embracing life in Cusco means immersing oneself in rich history, vibrant culture, and a warm, welcoming community, all set against a backdrop of breathtaking Andean landscapes.
South America’s cost of living and quality of life
Cost of living
South America offers a range of possibilities in terms of the cost of living. Generally, most countries in the region have a lower cost of living than the United States.
For example, living in Colombia can be very affordable, especially considering housing and rental costs.
To compare the cost of living among South American countries, you can check out this Cost of Living Index by Country in 2022 by Numbeo.
In South America, healthcare systems vary in terms of quality, accessibility, and affordability.
You need to research and understand each country’s healthcare system before making a move.
Public healthcare systems in some regions of Latin America may not have the same quality or access to services as private healthcare providers.
Expats often purchase private health coverage or international health insurance for better healthcare services. You can compare the costs of the leading health insurance providers.
Education and international schools
Latin American countries have diverse educational options, which can differ notably from one country to the next.
In many countries, expats choose international schools for their children as they usually offer curriculums similar to those in the United States, United Kingdom, or other parts of the world.
These schools often have English as their primary language of instruction and cater to the expat community.
When researching education options, consider the following:
Public versus private schools
Availability of international schools
- The curriculum followed and the primary language of education
Distance from your home
Tuition fees and additional costs
Choosing the right country in South America for you as an expat will depend on your preferences and priorities regarding the cost of living, healthcare system, and education for your family.
Researching and understanding each country’s individual provisions will help make a far more informed decision.
Which is the safest country in South America?
Choosing a country or city with a low crime rate is best to ensure your safety and security while living in South America.
Uruguay is considered one of the safest Latin American countries. Other countries considered among the safest countries include Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador. Colombia is also becoming a much safer destination for expats.
It is important to note that safety concerns can vary within a country, and expats should always exercise caution and research their destination before traveling.
When evaluating different countries and major cities, consider factors such as personal safety, property crime, and violent crime rates.
Use statistical websites such as World Population Review to get more up-to-date information about each country.
In summary, when choosing a country in Latin America for your next expat adventure, prioritize those with lower crime rates, stable economies, and cities that are known for good levels of personal safety.
Researching each country and city will help you find the ideal destination that fulfills your requirements for safety and security.
Choosing the best location based on lifestyle choices
An important aspect of deciding where to live in South America as an expat is to consider your lifestyle preferences.
This diverse continent offers many great cities, landscapes, and settings, each with amazing tourist attractions and appeal.
Here is some food for thought highlighting the different lifestyles available in South America.
Beaches and rainforests
If you’re a fan of tropical climates, warm beaches, amazing cities, and lush rainforests, you’ll find numerous options in South America. Brazil, for example, boasts the stunning coastal city of Rio de Janeiro, famous for its stunning beaches and vibrant culture.
Additionally, Florianopolis, often referred to as the “Magic Island,” offers stunning coastlines and a laid-back lifestyle.
Elsewhere, Ecuador’s Pacific Coast and Colombia’s Caribbean Coast provide expats with idyllic beachfront living with diverse flora and fauna, including the renowned Amazon Rainforest.
Mountains and lakes
South America also has much to offer if you prefer cooler climates where you can find solace in the mountains and lakes.
In Argentina, the picturesque city of Bariloche lies within the Andean mountain range and is home to stunning lakes and nature reserves, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.
Similarly, cities such as Quito in Ecuador and Cusco in Peru are nestled in the Andean highlands, providing opportunities to experience traditional cultures against breathtaking landscapes of mountains and valleys.
Cultural and historical sites
South America is a melting pot of cultural and historical sites, making it a haven for history buffs and anyone seeking rich cultural experiences.
Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina, is well known for its European architecture and thriving arts scene, with numerous art galleries, museums, and concert halls.
In Colombia, the city of Medellín offers a unique blend of modern development alongside traditional Colombian culture.
Furthermore, Lima, the capital of Peru, boasts numerous historical sites, including pre-Incan ruins, making it an attractive option for expats who relish archaeology and anthropology.
By assessing your lifestyle preferences and considering each country’s different environments, you can choose a location that best aligns with your interests and desired way of life in South America.
Visas and legal requirements
As an expat, you must ensure that you obtain the correct visa and meet any legal requirements to live in a South American country.
There are multiple options available depending on the country and your specific needs.
In Uruguay, for instance, obtaining residency is relatively straightforward.
To become eligible for Uruguayan residency, you must have a provable monthly lifetime income of around $1500, dependent on currency exchange rates.
A tax residency program also exists for anyone looking to establish themselves quickly.
Some countries like Ecuador have professional visas for those who meet specific criteria.
While considering which country to live in, research thoroughly and keep in mind that different countries in South America have different resident visa requirements and processes.
It is essential to know the following steps when applying for a visa:
Consult your chosen country’s consulate or embassy for detailed information on the required documentation and procedure.
Obtain the necessary paperwork, such as your passport, birth certificate, and documentation proving your income or investment.
Complete your application form and provide the necessary documentation to the consulate or embassy for processing.
Wait for the approval of your application. This may take anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the country’s process.
Ultimately, it is advisable to consult an immigration lawyer or agent who has experience with your chosen country’s immigration process to ensure a smooth transition to your new life in South America.
Understanding the specific visa requirements and legal processes is critical to a successful and hassle-free move to any South American country as an expat.